Foot Washing – Breaking Down India’s Caste System

Post a Comment » Written on October 2nd, 2009     
Filed under: News
By Stan Friedman

CHICAGO, IL (October 2, 2009) – Noel and Kyle Becchetti hope the simple act of foot washing will help break down the millennia-old caste system of India.

The two Covenanters now guide Truthseekers in North America, an arm of Truthseekers International, which was founded in India to promote reconciliation and social justice. Truthseekers, with which the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC) partners, is introducing these radical concepts to millions of people.

“There is no word for reconciliation in India,” says Noel. “It doesn’t exist.”

SunilAt least 80 percent of India’s population is considered part of the lower castes – Dalits (formerly known as untouchables) and aboriginal tribal groups. The oppressive system of at least 6,000 castes pits people against each other, Noel says. The system is largely delineated by occupation and is so ingrained in the culture that even many Christians adhere to it.

The caste system is based on the belief that people’s station in life is governed by the Hindu system of reincarnation and karma, which maintains that people are rewarded or punished for acts in a previous life.

Some of the most troubling aspects of the system can be found in the fight against slavery in the country. Karma states that even child prostitutes are being punished – or rewarded – for behavior in previous lives, Noel says.

People believe they will be polluted by others in castes lower than themselves. Intermarriage between castes generally is forbidden.

The Becchettis first became involved with Truthseekers when they were introduced to activist Sunil Sardar and his American-born wife, Pam, by former Evangelical Covenant Church President Paul Larsen. Larsen had met the Indian activists while helping to revive a seminary in the country.

The Sadars formed Truthseekers International in 2003, naming the new organization after The Society for the Seekers of Truth founded in the 1800’s by Jotirao Phule, a famous Indian social reformer who was a strong advocate on behalf of the lower castes of India and a believer in Christ.

Foot washingThe Sardars believe that Christ can be presented – even in Indian culture – in the same way that Paul shared Christ with the Athenians in Acts 17.

The ministry’s “foot washing rallies” have helped to spread the message of Christ’s reconciling love, says Noel. The rallies are based on Jesus’ act of washing his disciples’ feet.

The rallies are held in the neighborhoods of lower caste people. Members of the ministry team tell why they want to wash the people’s feet and then bring forward the women of the lowest caste first because they are the most “devalued” people in the culture, Noel says.

The women have never been treated with such kindness, Noel says. “They are blown away.”

The Becchettis will lead two foot washing mission trips to India in the next several months. The first trip will be November 19-27, 2009, and the second trip will be held March 6-14 and coincides with North Park University’s Spring Break. For more information, click here.

The influence of Truthseekers continues to expand. In April 2009, Truthseekers invited approximately 50 leaders of castes representing millions of people to a neutral site in the city of Nagpur for a Caste Reconciliation Retreat. The retreat grew to 81 leaders who prayed and ate together as part of the retreat.

That the group would eat together was especially remarkable because eating together is considered among the most polluting events across caste boundaries, Noel says.

The ministry also operates Truthseekers Center, where people of different castes can meet together. Caste leaders must come to Dehli to speak with national legislators, but they often cannot afford to stay anywhere but at the center, Noel says.

CrowdIn order to stay at the center, the caste leaders must agree to eat with people of other castes. “It’s like this constant reconciliation retreat,” Noel says, smiling.

Noel adds, “I never understood the power of Galatians 3:28 until I went to India.” Paul had written to the Galatians, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (TNIV)

Four leaders of 160 million people in sub-castes recently met and produced a statement that urged people to leave Hinduism, embrace monotheism, declare that Baliraja is Jesus, and that intermarriage is now permitted.

Covenant World Relief and the Department of World Mission are working on projects with Truthseekers. The projects include Covenant Kids, a scholarship program.

Truthseekers in North America raises financial support the India ministry and provides opportunities for people to travel to India to minister.

Editor’s note: In the top photo, Sunil is cutting off the threads that a Brahmin priest had tied to the man’s wrist. The center photo was taken at one of the many foot washing rallies, which drew large crowds, including many children and young adults as shown in the lower photo. Click here to view additional photos. Click here to view video footage.

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